JACKSONVILLE, N.C. - Surrounded by a wall of names of those who perished or were unaccounted for during the Vietnam War, service members, past and present, along with members of the community gathered at Lejeune Memorial Gardens to honor and remember during Vietnam Recognition Day Ceremony April 27.
The Jon Panarese Chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America hosted the event with the support of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune which provided the color guard, firing detail and a bugler.
Dozens attended and listened to remarks from Paul Buchanan, the chairman of the Onslow County Board of Commissioners and a Vietnam veteran and purple heart recipient.
Veterans from the Vietnam War have forged bonds that continue to this day, 40 years after the end of the United States’ involvement in the war. Those bonds are sustained when veterans gather to share their struggles with each other and remember those who did not return.
More than 58,000 service members died in the Vietnam War. As of 2011, 7.5 million Vietnam-era veterans are living in the United States, according to the Census Bureau.
James Ortega, a former reconnaissance Marine who attended the ceremony, began meeting with other Vietnam veterans eight years ago. Many veterans do not speak about their experiences in the war until they begin to meet other veterans, he said adding that sharing their story brought him and the others peace.
“The wounds don’t really heal,” said Ortega. “You just need somebody who understands. Somebody who knows exactly what you’re talking about.”
John Praga, a Vietnam veteran, said he visits the Vietnam Veterans Memorial monthly along with three other veterans to read the names of those who died in the war. They visit to remember the service members to make it known there is always somebody who will honor them.
When service members returned from the Vietnam War, they were not welcomed, said Michael Carr, president of the Jon Panarese Chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America.
Veterans faced insults and abuse. Many suppressed their wartime experiences after receiving hostile treatment from the general population.
“We’re still getting over it,” said Carr.
In recent years, veterans of the war have begun to receive recognition for their sacrifices, said Carr. Some protestors have apologized to the troops at a recent veterans’ convention, he added.
When Vietnam War veterans returned to the United States many wondered how they and their comrades would be remembered. The war veterans and military installations took the responsibility upon themselves to commemorate them. Today that is reflected in a host of remembrance ceremonies nationwide.
The ceremony and the monument that bear the names of the fallen are some of the ways the local community pays homage to veterans.
“If you have a chance to look at all of the names on the walls you realize how many sacrifices have been made,” said Ortegan
For more information on Vietnam Veterans of America visit vva.org.